Wow it feels like only yesterday I was sat here typing about the advent of Ramadhan 2016 and here we find ourselves again, at the dawn of another Holy Month, after another blessed year.
I say a blessed year as I know I am amongst the some of most fortunate in this world, but it does feel like the last 12 months have been a complete roller coaster when it comes to issues and chaos happening elsewhere. After Monday’s attack in Manchester, the drowning of yet more fleeing refugees in the Meditarranean yesterday… it’s clear there is so much more work we all need to do to contribute to peace for human kind.
Last year, I wrote about what Ramadhan is, trying to address many of the questions that we Muslims get asked pretty much every year. This year, I wanted to talk about what Ramadhan means (well the way I was taught at least) and to perhaps highlight the more spiritual and character enhancing aspects of why we do what we do.
Why is it so important?
Ramadhan is considered the Holiest Month of the Islamic year because that was the month in which the Quran, our Holy Book, was revealed by God to who we Muslims believe is the last Prophet, the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him).
The Abrahamic faiths which came before Islam were Christianity and Judaism before that. Both Judiasm and Christianity incorporated fasting as parts of their religion too. The Jews have Yom Kippur and the Christians have Lent. Ramadhan for Muslims, is simply an extension of those and fasting in the Islamic faith is an act that is done solely for God.
So, for this reason, it is a highly significant month – the most significant, in fact.
How does it apply to life today?
Well, Ramadhan is about complete abstinence during the hours of daylight. Not just abstinence from eating and drinking, but from cursing, from gossiping, from sexual relations, and indeed from engaging in anything that is considered negative such as anger, deceit, lying etc.
What that does is it forces the human spirit to look inwards at itself and it forces you to reflect. Though religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism are not Abrahamic, they too also have concepts of fasting because fasting really does force you to detach from ego.
For me, the month really is a time for reflection. If you read my blog you’ll know I have been reflecting a lot this past year about the state of society and political situations, but this month is about focusing more on yourself and your actions.
In the UK and parts of Europe, Ramadhan has fallen during the longest days of the year, when the hours of daylight are upwards of 18-19 hours. You can probably appreciate how going from eating and drinking whenever you want to having one meal every 24 hours can really stop you in your tracks and force you to think about how fortunate we are to have lives that are relatively easy.
What exactly are we being grateful for?
The majority of us now live better than even Kings and Queens would have lived just 200 years ago, and this month forces us to appreciate all of the blessings which we are surrounded by.
It makes us think about all of the excess we’re privileged to on a daily basis, stuff we don’t even think about during the year. Simple things like being able to place a Dominos order online and have piping hot pizza delivered to your door minutes later. Whatever we need at any time, the chances are we can make a call, press a few buttons or simply get in our car and pick it up instantly with more and more places open till late or open 24 hours.
Appreciation for what we have is one of the biggest lessons that Ramadhan brings but sadly something most of us lose sight of when the month is over (me included!).
How does fasting help?
Imagine starving yourself all day, for 18 hours. Finally, the evening is here, bellies are rumbling, you are tired as you’ve been working all day and you’ve spent the last two hours of your day cooking for yourselves and your families, engaging in worship whenever you can.
Literally all you want to do, all you can think about, is when the heck is the minute hand on that clock going to land on the exact time so we can finally reach for that glass and date.
There are no words to describe the sensation you feel when you take that first sip of water or when you have that first bite of food you’ve been craving all day. And we only have to do this once a year.
You cannot help but think of people who are deprived of food on a daily basis. The act of iftar – of breaking ones fast at the end of a loooong day, can sometimes be a very emotional experience.
But Ramadhan is also all about family. Even if you have family members who do not usually observe their daily prayers, when the Holy Month arrives, you generally always fast together, you sit together, you eat together. You have all been doing the same thing all day – fasting, so you’re pretty much experiencing the same emotional roller-coaster of Ramadan together (in’t that nice?).
Is it safe to fast for such long hours?
One question that most of us are asked every year, surely fasting for all that time cannot be healthy for you. Well actually, many studies over the last few decades have shown that fasting is a fantastic way of purging the body.
Ramadhan aside, one of the practices of our Prophet Muhammed (may peace and blessing be upon him) was to fast on a Monday and Thursday. This is something that has been done as a voluntary act by Muslims for hundreds of years.
And today, we have things like the 5:2 diet where you eat normally 5 times a week, and fast for 2. The reason? Health and weight control. So fasting is actually a very, very good thing for the body, as well as the soul.
One thing I should also point out, is that there are very strict rules on NOT fasting if you do suffer from health issues which can put your body in further danger. Looking after our health is an important part of being a muslim, and if fasting will jeopardise that in any way, you are expected not to fast.
FYI – I’ll be publishing a post specifically on iftar, the moment we break our fast, over the next few days where you’ll have the opportunity to win an intu Trafford Centre gift card… watch this space!
As we are literally a day or so away from welcoming Ramadhan 2017, I wish everyone partaking an abundance of blessings, patience and good health.
May it be a rewarding month for us all.